1949 August 27

Peekskill, New York: Anti-Communist Riot Blocks Robeson Concert


Anti-Communist vigilantes attacked concert-goers on this day with baseball bats and rocks and blocked a concert in Peekskill, New York (Westchester County) that featured the noted African-American singer Paul Robeson. Robeson was also a prominent left-wing activist who was very critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War. The concert on this day was to be a fundraiser for the left-wing Civil Rights Congress, founded on April 27, 1946, which had been included on the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations (see March 21, 1947; December 4, 1947). Robeson was lynched in effigy and a cross was set on fire.

The concert was rescheduled concert and held on September 4, 1949.

Robeson’s singing career was destroyed by the Cold War. The government revoked his passport on August 4, 1950, thereby denying him lucrative singing engagements overseas. (On May 26, 1957, however, he gave a concert by telephone to an audience in London.) In the U.S., meanwhile, he was the victim of a blacklist that denied him all but a few concert opportunities.

Read: Howard Fast, Peekskill, U.S.A. (1951, reprinted 2006)

Watch newsreel footage of the Peekskill riot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pgyACdT1rM

Documents, photos, songs about Peekskill: http://www.antiwarsongs.org/canzone.php?id=42134&lang=en

Hear Paul Robeson sing “Ole Man River” from Showboat: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh9WayN7R-s

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